Dongting Lake Waterkeeper: Protector of the Finless Porpoise

By BingXiu He, Dongting Lake Waterkeeper

With a round head, charming smile, and lively character, the Yangtze finless porpoise is easy to fall in love with. The porpoise, also known as the panda of the river, is an endemic species of China. Before human beings appeared, these aquatic marine mammals had a thriving population in the Yangtze River. Though in the past 30 years under the influence of human activities, including overfishing, intensive shipping, water pollution, and excessive sand mining, the population has shrunk to less than 1000 in the wild. This porpoise subspecies is now listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). If no immediate actions are taken, the finless porpoise may be extinct within ten years.

Dongting Lake Waterkeeper Daming He with a finless porpoise. Photo by BingXiu He.

Dongting Lake Guardians is composed of a group of fishermen with deep roots in the Dongting Lake fishing community, giving them a special attachment to the lake. In 2003, when founder Daming He rescued a porpoise mother and son, Mr. He was moved by the finless porpoise’s display of maternal love. With the decreasing population of the lake’s finless porpoises and the degrading natural environment, Mr. He became determined to protect this animal.

Patrol to stop illegal electric fishing that can severely impair fishery resources and finless porpoise populations.

Mr. He took action: He gathered some of his fishermen friends and established a patrol team. The team would patrol on Dongting Lake, report illegal fishing, persuade fishermen to abandon unsustainable fishing methods, and promote ecological protection. In June 2015, they officially registered the “East Dongting Ecological Protection Association” and became full-time patrollers.

Patrol vessel

To better protect the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise, the team set up two finless porpoise guard stations: Bian Shan Island station and a patrol vessel. They regularly patrol the lake, reporting and reducing illegal activities. In 2016, East Dongting Ecological Protection Association stopped over 100 illegal electric fishing ships. In addition to the Yangtze finless porpoise, the team protects migratory birds, elks, and other rare wild animals that live in the Dongting Lake area. As an advocacy tool, the team often invites the public to take part in their patrols as a way to educate citizens on survival status of the finless porpoise.

In the same year, 2016, the team joined as a member of Waterkeeper Alliance and became Dongting Lake Waterkeeper. Waterkeeper Alliance is a global network of water advocates. The Alliance provides Dongting Lake Waterkeeper with a broader perspective on water protection, as well as an opportunity to learn and engage in water activities worldwide.

Dongting Lake Waterkeeper educating families on the finless porpoise.

Now, more and more people have come to realize the significance of protecting the finless porpoise. The Chinese government has also taken a series of measures. With our combined unremitting efforts, the porpoises will be free of extinction and the health of Dongting Lake will return to its previous state!

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